Tuesday 20 March 2018

A key figure in Gubu affair, but late Attorney was not defined by it

Patrick Connolly
Patrick Connolly
Murderer Malcolm MacArthur who was arrested at the Dalkey apartment belonging to then Attorney General Patrick Connolly. Photo: NPA/Independent collection
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

He spent 30 years behind bars. But it is incredible, bizarre even, that it is double killer Malcolm MacArthur who has outlived most of the dramatis personae from that chaotic period in Irish politics known simply as "Gubu".

Today, one of those key players - former Attorney General Patrick Connolly, will be buried, following his death at the age of 88 - bringing with him to the grave an extraordinary insight into events that ultimately led to the collapse of then Taoiseach Charles Haughey's government.

Haughey was already weathering a series of political crises when MacArthur, a well-known eccentric in Dublin's social circles, was arrested on August 13, 1982 at an apartment in Dalkey owned by Connolly, who had been appointed Attorney General in March of that year.

The arrest of MacArthur followed a massive manhunt for the suspect who had murdered nurse Bridie Gargan and, days later, farmer Donal Dunne. MacArthur, an acquaintance of Connolly, was staying as a guest at his Dalkey home at the request of a mutual friend.

The frenzy surrounding the arrest of MacArthur at the Attorney's home escalated when it emerged that the two men had attended an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park together days after the murders. Connolly's eccentric guest, who that day rubbed shoulders with several dignitaries including then Garda Commissioner Patrick McLoughlin, even inquired about the 'dreadful' killings.

But it was a decision by Connolly, an avid traveller, to embark on a pre-planned trip to America, that allowed rumour and innuendo to reach a zenith.

Connolly was a wholly innocent party in the entire Gubu affair. But with some portraying his decision to cross the Atlantic as some form of flight from justice - Connolly was met by a barrage of TV cameras when he arrived at New York's JFK Airport - he returned to Ireland and promptly retired from his position as Attorney on August 16, 1982.

Small wonder why Haughey described the events leading up to MacArthur's arrest as "a bizarre happening, an unprecedented situation, a grotesque situation, an almost unbelievable mischance".

Haughey's lament led his then nemesis, Conor Cruise O'Brien, to coin the term "Gubu" to describe the government led by Haughey who subsequently lost the general election in November 1982.

For all its unprecedented and unbelievable qualities, the Gubu affair did not undo Connolly, a staunch Fianna Fáil supporter who succeeded Anthony Hederman (a former Supreme Court judge who died last year) as Attorney General.

Connolly, a deeply private man, returned to the Law Library where he drew a veil of silence over his departure from government while at the same time reviving a hugely successful career as a senior counsel.

If anything, Connolly returned to the bar as a grandee, one who was perceived by colleagues as a victim of the political and press frenzy of that time.

He became the leading expert on insurance law and personal injuries and was "the bible" on the Motor Insurance Board of Ireland (MIBI) and the agreements between the government and companies underwriting motor insurance, which led to the bureau's establishment.

Ironically, his death comes as the bureau is fighting a court ruling obliging it to assume a €90m liability following the collapse, last year, of Setanta Insurance.

The legal row could lead to motorists being hit with even higher premiums.

Whilst Patrick Connolly will be connected in the minds of some with Gubu, his life's work and legacy is not defined by it.

Universally respected, the self-deprecating and witty lawyer - a hurling fanatic who enjoyed classical music and opera - was also a man of enormous integrity.

"Paddy had the rare ability of knowing when to say nothing or to say only what was absolutely necessary in the circumstances," says David Barniville SC, chairman of the Bar. "He was a brilliant lawyer and outstanding advocate."

As Mr Connolly is laid to rest today, it is Malcolm MacArthur who is one of the very last men standing from those heady Gubu years.

Irish Independent

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